Teddy's letter came today and now that I've read it, I will place it in my cedar chest with the other things that are important to me in my life.
"I wanted you to be the first to know."
I smiled as I read the words he had written and my heart swelled with a pride that I had no right to feel.
I have not seen Teddy Stallard since he was a student in my fifth-grade class, fifteen years ago. It was early in my career and I had only been teaching for two years.
From the day he stepped into my classroom, I disliked Teddy. Teachers (although everyone knows differently) are not supposed to have favorites in a class, but most especially they are not to show dislike for a child, any child.
Nevertheless, every year there are one or two children that cannot help but be attached to, for teachers are human, and it is human nature to like bright, pretty, intelligent people, whether they are ten years old or twenty-five. And sometimes, not too often fortunately, there will be one or two students to whom the teacher just can't seem to relate.
I had thought myself quite capable of handling my personal feelings along that line until Teddy walked into my life. There wasn't a child I particularly liked that year, but Teddy was most assuredly one I disliked.
He was dirty. Not just occasionally, but all the time. His hair hung low over his ears and he actually had to hold it out of his eyes as he wrote his papers in class. (And this was before it was fashionable to do so!) Too, he had a peculiar odor about him which I could never identify.
His physical faults were many, and his intellect left a lot to be desired, also. By the end of the first week I knew he was hopelessly behind the others. Not only was he behind; he was just plain slow! I began to withdraw from him immediately.
Any teacher will tell you that it's more of a pleasure to teach a bright child. It is definitely more rewarding for one's ego. But any teacher worth her credentials can channel work to the bright child, keeping him challenged and learning while she puts her major effort on the slower ones. Any teacher can do this. Most teachers do it, but I didn't. Not that year.
In fact, I concentrated on my best students and let the others follow along as best they could. Ashamed as I am to admit it, I took perverse pleasure in using my red pen; and each time I came to Teddy's papers, the crossmarks (and there were many) were always a little larger and a little redder than the necessary.
"Poor work!" I would write with a flourish.
While I did not actually ridicule the boy, my attitude was obviously quite apparent to the class, for he quickly became the class "goat," the outcast - the unlovable and the unloved.
He knew I didn't like him, but he didn't know why. Nor did I know - then or now - why I felt such an intense dislike for him. All I know is that he was a little boy no one cared about, and I made no effort in his behalf.
The days rolled by and we made it through the Fall Festival, the Thanksgiving holidays, and I continued marking happily with my red pen.
As the Christmas holidays approached, I knew that Teddy would never catch up in time to be promoted to the sixth-grade level. He would be a repeater. To justify myself, I went to his cumulative folder from time to time. He had very low grades for the first four years, but no grade failure. How he had made it, I didn't know. I closed my mind to the personal remarks:
First grade: "Teddy shows promise by work and attitude but has a poor home situation."
Second Grade: "Teddy could do better. Mother terminally ill. He receives little help at home."
Third Grade: "Teddy is a pleasant boy. Helpful but too serious. Slow learner. Mother passed away end of the year.
Fourth Grade: " Very slow, but well behaved. Father shows no interest.
Well, they passed him on four times, but he will certainly repeat fifth grade! Do him good! I said to myself.
And then the last day before the holiday arrived. Our little tree on the reading table sported paper and popcorn chains. Many gifts were heaped underneath, waiting for the big moment.
Teachers always get several gifts at Christmas, but mine that year seemed bigger and more elaborate than ever. There was not a student who had not brought me one. Each unwrapping brought squeals of delight and the proud giver would receive effusive thank-you's.
His gift wasn't the last one I picked up; in fact it was in the middle of the pile. Its wrapping was a brown paper bag and he had colored Christmas trees and red bells all over it. It was stuck together with masking tape.
"For Miss Thompson - From Teddy" It read.
The group was completely silent and for the first time I felt conspicuous, embarrassed because they all stood watching me unwrap that gift.
As I removed the last bit of masking tape, two items fell to my desk. A gaudy rhinestone bracelet with several stones missing and a small bottle of dime-store cologne - half empty.
I could hear the snickers and whispers and I wasn't sure I could look at Teddy.
"Isn't this lovely?" I asked, placing the bracelet on my wrist. "Teddy, would you help me fasten it?"
He smiled shyly as he fixed the clasp and held up my wrist for all of them to admire.
There were a few hesitant ooh's and aah's but as I dabbed the cologne behind my ears, all the little girls lined up for a dab behind their ears.
I continued to open all the gifts until I reached the bottom of the pile. We ate our refreshments and the bell rang.
The children filed out with shouts of "See you next year!" and "Merry Christmas!" but Teddy waited at his desk.
When they had all left, he walked towards me clutching his gift and books to his chest.
"You smell just like Mom," he said softly. "Her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I'm glad you liked it."
He left quickly and I locked the door, sat down at my desk and wept, resolving to make it up to Teddy what I had deliberately deprived him of - a teacher who cared.
I stayed every afternoon with Teddy from the end of the Christmas holiday until the last day of school. Sometimes we worked together. Sometimes he worked alone while I drew up lesson plans or graded papers.
Slowly but surely he caught up with the rest of the class. Gradually there was a definite upward curve in his grades.
He did not have to repeat the fifth grade. In fact his final averages were among the highest in the class, and although I knew he would be moving out of the state when school was out, I was not worried for him. Teddy had reached a level that would stand him in good stead the following year, no matter where he went. He had enjoyed a measure of success and as we were taught in our teacher training courses: "Success builds success."
I did not hear from Teddy until seven years later, when his first letter appeared in my mailbox.
"Dear Miss Thompson,
I just wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class next month.
Very truly yours,
I sent him a card of congratulations and a small package, a pen and a pencil gift set. I wondered what he would do after graduation.
Four years later, Teddy's second letter came.
"Dear Miss Thompson,
I wanted you to be the first to know. I was just informed that I'll be graduating first in my class. The university has not been easy, but I liked it.
Very truly yours,
I sent him a good pair of sterling silver monogrammed cuff links and a card, so proud of him I could burst!
And now - today - Teddy's third letter.
"Dear Miss Thompson,
I wanted you to be the first to know. As of today I am Theodore J. Stallard, MD. How about that!!??
I'm going to be married in July, the twenty-seventh, to be exact. I wanted to ask if you could come and sit where my Mom would sit if she were here, I'll have no family there as Dad died last year.
Very truly yours,
I'm not sure what kind of gist one sends to a doctor on completion of medical school and state boards. Maybe I'll just wait and take a wedding gift, but my note can't wait.
Congratulations! You made it and you did it yourself! In spite of those like me and not because of us, this day has come for you.
God bless you. I'll be at that wedding with bells on!"
The above is the ACTUAL story as printed in Home Life March,1976. There are many versions of this floating around the Internet, please honor the author and pass along the TRUE version of her work!
This is proudly printed here with permission of the author.
One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other
students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between
Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could
say about each of their classmates and write it down.
It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment
and, as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.
That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a
separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the
entire class was smiling. "Really?" she heard whispered.
"I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!" and, "I didn't know others liked me so much." were some of the comments.
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents,
but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another.
That group of students moved on. Several years later, one of the students was killed in Vietnam and his teacher attended the
funeral of that special student.
She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before.
He looked so handsome, so mature.
The church was packed with his friends. One by one, those who loved
him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin. As she stood there, one of the soldiers, who acted as pall bearer, came up to her.
"Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked.
She nodded: "Yes."
Then he said: "Mark talked about you a lot."
After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates went together to a
luncheon. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.
"We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it."
Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notepaper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times.
The teacher knew, without looking, that the papers were the
ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark's
classmates had said about him.
"Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."
All of Mark's former classmates started to gather around.
Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's
in the top drawer of my desk at home."
Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album."
"I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary."
Then Vickie, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group.
" I carry this with me at all times," Vickie said, and without batting an eyelash, she continued: "I think we all saved our lists."
That's when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.
The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one day will
So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late..